Nice to be appreciated :-)
Author: Gareth Richards
So, having done the artwork for the posters and flyers for Regent Rep's production of Baddies which will appear at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I have been told that the manager of the Space venues intends to use my poster design as an example to other theatre companies of the right way to do it!
Nice to be appreciated :-)
Author: Gareth Richards
So, in the last month I have finished the 8pp programmes for Arena's Playhouse Creatures and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the 12pp one for Regent Rep's Dad's Army. Plus, done some makeweight promo posters for The Weir and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) for Arena and An Inspector Calls for Regent Rep. And finalised a teaser for the Scottish Play which I will be directing next year (uploaded on the site for any regular visitors out there...no? Aye, well, Just for my benefit then).
Phew! Feels odd to have no live imminent project to do - especially as for one of the programmes, which shall remain nameless *coughDad'sArmycough*, I had to pretty much write everyone's biogs for them...
However, I am now concentrating on two things - one, Jekyll and Hyde, which opens this weekend. Seems a bit sudden! But I am sure we will be fine, the principals are all fab and I am merely a bit part, token avuncular Scottish victim.
The other thing is prepping for the Scottish Play, so I am busy doing cuts and planning staging and stuff, which is great. If what I want to achieve for the set comes off, it will be awesome - but need to work out a venue yet, which may have a small say in the matter!
Author: Gareth Richards
One thing that the Nation's Best Am Dram editing has annoyed me with is the constant references to Regent Rep being "the best resourced group in the competition". Just not true.
We hire a rehearsal room. Most groups do. Whether it is a room in the theatre (the studio) or at a local school, we hire the space. And in fact, often times when we are booked in at the theatre, because we are "in-house", we are bumped from the studio due to another group who want it, and are made to rehearse in the nursery room downstairs which is tiny, low-ceilinged and crammed with stuff, leaving an effective acting area of ten feet wide, eight feet deep and about eight feet tall.
We don't have racks of old costumes we can revisit, reuse or amend: we hire our costumes as we need them, as most groups do.
We build our own sets using the volunteered skills and time of members and associates of the group.
We source our own props, just like every group does.
There is no distinction made on the show between the theatre (which sells around 90,000 tickets a year across all productions, professional and amateur, cinema and stage), and the theatre company (which performs two productions a year, usually selling 200-250 seats on the best nights and around 100-150 on a decent one - in an auditorium holding 450 - which is the main reason Regent Rep are forced to do Allo Allo and Dad's Army just to get bums on seats, rather than the literary fare we were created on - the likes of Jamaica Inn, The Crucible, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Cold Comfort Farm, Pride and Prejudice).
Any money we make in profit is taken by the theatre to fund the theatre. Not the theatre company. For the next production we start the whole process again, and if we fail to generate enough income for the theatre, we face the very real threat of being shut down.
There are companies featured in the competition who have, or had at the time of filming and for a long time prior, their own theatre which doubles as the rehearsal space, with offices, meeting rooms, and rooms and rooms of props and set, and wardrobes crammed full of costumes that they own.
We would love to be able to rehearse in the performance space, to have a back catalogue of set and costumes, and the space to build new set indoors and under cover - but we don't. So how can we can be "the best resourced group in the competition"?
NBAD is on the whole doing a great service for amateur theatre, but there is a degree of viewer manipulation in evidence (obviously, it is a TV show). So, for the record: Regent Rep are based at the Regent Centre, but it is not the Regent Centre. The show is guilty of a wilful confusion of the two identities. You might very well think that this is in order to generate in the viewers' minds a sense of a well-known Biblical battle between opposing heightist camps, but I'm afraid I couldn't possibly comment...
Author: Gareth Richards
Prompted by feedback on social media I thought I would put some thoughts down here on responses to the show that I have seen so far. I didn't post this on the relevant sites as it's all a bit long, and my random mental blurtings won't mean much anyway but for my own sake...
There were some things that I found not great about the whole process, and other things that I found to be amazingly rewarding.
From the point of view of the finished programme, which is really the point of the whole discussion; in fairness I think the producers have, pretty much, made an affectionate look rather than an exploitative one, for which we should all be grateful – it could very easily have gone the other way and ended up damaging every amateur company by tarring them all with some sort of horrible Acorn Antiques-handled brush. So in that sense I think that the producers have shown (so far at least) a sense of responsibility to the wider fraternity, and that they haven’t approached the subject with a hatchet job in mind, which is a huge relief.
As regards the choice of finalists (the final 20 or final 8): you know what, there very probably was an element of “what will make good TV” in their selection. Why this should be a surprise to anyone, it being a TV show and all, I don’t really know. That said, within the constraints of a TV show, with all that that might imply, there does seem to be a genuine regard for the companies and the efforts taken by their members – whether or not one agrees with their inclusion as a finalist; whether or not one feels that “we wouldn’t have done it like that” or “we would have done it better”. For a TV show to take amateur theatre seriously on its own merits and not take the piss out of the whole edifice…that’s kind of the most important thing, really, isn’t it?
Because, as for it not being representative of the entire phalanx of amateur theatre companies across the country…well, of course it’s not. The Amateur Stage moderator is right, the choice of plays performed all comes down to staging productions that are out of copyright – with most copyright fees for broadcast media being charged by the number of “eyeballs”, you can see that it would instantly get very expensive indeed to have performed anything that wasn’t out of copyright (especially showing the programme on a more mainstream channel like Sky One with around 10m weekly viewers – even little old Sky Arts 1 has a reach of around 750,000 a week), and musicals (by far the most popular of all amateur productions) are in themselves very expensive to begin with. Thus I think choosing to do only plays was the wisest, most manageable route for the production company.
As for the title. Well, I for one hate it - see my post elsewhere here about this. It was originally called Stagestruck, but was changed to Nation’s Best Am Dram – almost certainly for reasons of copyright again. I don’t like it, as apart from calling it “am dram” which I dislike anyway, if you were to win Britain’s Got Talent you would be crowned “Winner”, not “Most Talented Brit”. So it is a wee bit divisive, but then it is a competition, I suppose. We’re stuck with it now, regardless.
Some are complaining that it’s on Sky and not everyone gets Sky. True enough. But at least someone decided to make it, and that it was Sky Arts, who more than any other channel have a remit to support the arts, and not deride them. God alone knows what would have happened had ITV got a hold of it.
For those complaining they were unable to take part due to other commitments, it’s a shame that this is the case, but like any audition for any part anywhere, it does come down to (a) a willingness to enter (and I appreciate that a fear of the programme being exploitative may, reasonably, have hedged people’s bets in the first place and put them off – we certainly thought hard about it), and (b) an ability to make the deadline and/or commit to the schedule. Of course there are groups for whom the timing would have proven impossible to apply for the show, or for whom, had they been selected, would have meant massive clashes with a planned production. It is the nature of the beast that amateur theatre companies are busy a lot of the time. That said, I know of one of the companies in the programme who finished a run of a show the night before then had to travel half the country to perform for the TV programme the very next morning – but they were, luckily, willing and able to manage that juggling act - and the juggling of rehearsals for both too.
Hopefully the programme will show the public that, as Madeline from Crossmichael says on Facebook, there is a huge cross section of people from all walks of life involved in amateur theatre, and that for the vast majority of them, they take it seriously and are passionate about it. Quality varies from company to company, of course, but whatever you think of the finalists individually, none of them are actually bad, nor – most importantly - are they edited in such a way to be portrayed as the sort of company for whose members a production is primarily a way of getting a twice-weekly fix of custard creams and gossip with a chance to dress up at the end…which is a common misconception.
It won’t remove the stigma attached to the term “am dram” but if it shows amateurs in a positive light and maybe makes people think about seeing their local group as a consequence, it can only be a good thing. Even if I personally end up looking like a knob*.
* please no please no please God no
Author: Gareth Richards
Due to the dropping out of one of the principals, Don Juan by Regent Rep has had to be cancelled. All those midge bites for nothing! The director had put so much into it, too... What a shame. No news yet on what will replace it for the next production (not due until Spring now), or indeed if this is merely a postponement - but for now, show cancelled.
Apparently the Sky Arts Stagestruck programme - now changed to be Nation's Best Am Dram, about which more below - will now be being aired in November, rather than September, as we had been originally told. I was beginning to wonder why it had all gone a bit quiet on that front - I suspect there may be a scheduling clash with the RSC Open Stages which, considering 2012 is Bill the Bard's special centenary year, will undoubtedly be getting some telly time. More news as it is received.
Oh, about the title change. It's possibly to do with clashing with the recent "Young, Gifted and Stagestruck" programme, but the choice of "Nations Best Am Dram" as a replacement instead...what a shame. There must have been a better alternative?
Apart from it being a mouthful (even The Only Way Is Essex can be rendered as
the far snappier TOWIE), and apart from the inevitable hashtag "nbad", which is basically the word "bad", the most disappointing thing about "Nations Best Am Dram" is the inclusion of the words "Am Dram" in the title.
"Am Dram" is, for the majority of the population, a pejorative, dismissive term that conjures up images of Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques - only for real. It is a byword for shonky sets, murder victims making themselves comfortable when they're supposed to be dead, and a safe bet that the evening will include both a Garibaldi biscuit and a prompt or three, but, bless, they tried their best.
But, for all the groups who entered the competition, this sense of "am dram" is exactly the opposite of what they try to achieve. They are amateurs in the true Latin sense, of doing it for the love of it, rather than being paid for their efforts, and thus, although not professionals, and although limited in budgets, they all strive to produce as professional a performance as possible.
I guarantee you, not one amateur theatre company in the country, of whatever level, will willingly put the term "am dram" on their posters - beyond the license rights small print that typically reads "An amateur production in association with...".
Why? Because of the perception and reaction that "am dram" invokes. And here they all are, finalists in Sky Arts' competition to find the very best amateur theatre companies in the land - the "beating heart of theatre in Britain", and they're thinking, "Great, we can publicise our company as being featured on "Stagestruck" on Sky TV: that'll look good on the posters and should help with the declining ticket sales we've been suffering from for years"...only to find that, in order to use the positive aspect of being involved with a prestigious TV show, they have to slap the negative phrase "Am Dram" in great big bold type across everything they do.
Regent Rep had the show's title (with Sky's permission) on our poster for Pride and Prejudice, and as we flyered people, several people took one look at the proferred handbill and replied "Am Dram? No thanks"... One TV show on a subscriber station is not going to undo years and years of accumulated mental imagery around that term, and it does feel a little unsympathetic to use it.
What would I have suggested instead? Perhaps "Upstage, Downstage" if they were feeling nostalgic and tongue in cheek (it does after all, take a look at the real lives behind the painted facade - and would look quite good as a quote source on a poster); "All The World's A Stage" (hashtag: ATWAS) maybe? Or simply, "Merely Players"?
You might think they're crappy names, too. And you'd probably be right, I only thought them up as I typed this - but at least they're, to coin a phrase, "selling the sizzle and not the sausage": a bit less blunt about it. But hey. Que sera, sera.
Author: Gareth Richards
I really need to update this more often! Glengarry Glen Ross went very well, and was a lot of fun to do. The review is here if you would like to find out what people thought.
Next up is a double whammy for me, with first up Don Juan by Regent Rep in September, for which I have been busy practicing for a sword-fighting scene - great fun (although the final score after the last practice ended up as Gareth 0, Mosquitos 5 - early summer evenings and grass are a bad combination).
After that, it's straight on to Jerusalem with Arena, where I shall be playing Ginger, as made immortal by Mackenzie Crook. A fantastic, funny, heartstring-tugging play, and I hope I can do the part justice.
In the meantime I have been busy getting the programme ready for Calendar Girls for Arena, and making a start on the same for Don Juan. I am actually slightly ahead of myself for a change, which has to be some kind of a first.
So, Pride & Prejudice went down a storm (see review here), and I was only needed for two short scenes and a bit of light ballroom action. All in the first half, so feet up for the majority of the night, which was rather nice.
I had to... well, I say "had to", I chose to... shave my beard into Harry Flashman-style cavalry whiskers, which looked brilliant in costume, but I have to say slightly less so in the day-to-day, getting on a bus, going into work, all that stuff. But, it was a bit of fun and it only lasted a week.
Shaving the whiskers off was quite a pleasure on the Sunday, I must say. Even though I have had a beard for the best part of seven months now, so it has taken a wee while to get used to the stranger peeping at me from the mirror - but I need to be clean-shaven for Glengarry Glen Ross anyway, so it's all good.
The Sunday after P&P I had been volunteered to do an extract from The Scottish Play at CADArts' Jubilee show...bit of an odd choice for a celebratory evening in praise of the monarch, in that Macbeth is a dark, dark play about regicide and its aftermath...but hey, I don;t make the rules. So, I did the "Is this a dagger..." speech and then (successfully, I think) revived the corpse of the evening's mood (the people on before me were dancers doing the Charleston...) with some further Shakespearean blah, this time in praise of Elizabeth I...so I thought it fitting to address it to the current Elizabeth. Phew. Bullet dodged, more or less.
Last night was opening night (at Shaftesbury Arts Centre) of Glengarry Glen Ross: went pretty well, although the strong language warning put off most of the townsfolk from coming, so we had a smallish crowd - although, to be fair, it may have been Germany v Spain had something to do with it, too.
On to Avonbourne on Wednesday, followed next week by a run at BLTC. Hopefully by then I will have mastered the art of pouring coffee into, rather than in the general vicinity of, my mug whilst on stage. Obviously I blame the Wilko £10 percolator, but....
So, I can't say how we did in the Stagestruck semi-final, but I can say what we did...
We performed two scenes from King Lear (III,7 - the blinding of Gloucester, and IV,1 - Gloucester and Edgar), on the stage at the RSC Courtyard Theatre in Stratford. Yes, that RSC, that Stratford. Lovely theatre, seats a thousand but feels much more intimate with its big old thrust stage. What a buzz just to be there!
I played Servant 1, who steps in to stop Cornwall from gouging out Gloucester's other eye, having already done one. Not a big part, but a nice one: only four lines to learn, so less stress than Lopakhin, and a nice fight scene followed by a nice juicy death. And I say "juicy" advisedly. That fake blood gets everywhere!
Shakespeare! In Stratford! At the RSC!
That in itself was like the final for me, and for many more of Regent Rep, too, so just being able to have the opportunity to perform there was a huge dream come true.
Well, after the embargo was lifted (largely because two companies, who shall remain nameless, ignored it and tweeted their news to all and sundry and so the TV people must have just given in, frankly), we can now officially announce how we got on in the quarter finals.
First though, a bit about the day. All very bizarre. We arrived in Northampton the night before to find the hotel was hosting a Star Trek convention, and Klingons and Star Fleet officers were
I am not the Gareth Richards of stand-up comedy fame. I am an altogether taller and more Scottish proposition.